Writer: Javaad Alipoor
Directors: Javaad Alipoor, Kirsty Housley and Irshad Ashraf
The Believers Are But Brothers is part of the ambitious Electric Dreams Online Festival, which started on Friday and continues until August 16. Playing with the tagline ‘ When we need to be apart but want to be together, technology provides a solution’, all of the shows and events in the festival use platforms like Zoom or WhatsApp to make sure the audience feels involved. Javaad Alipoor’s exploration into why young men are drawn to ISIS or far-right organisations uses WhatsApp and a finely edited film as his means of persuasion. This adaptation of his play, seen last at the Bush Theatre, works well for interactive screens.
Through YouTube, Alipoor presents his argument, firmly blaming advertising, branding and social media for the rise in terrorist and far-right groups. Although the history of advertising is a long one, Alipoor cites Coca-Cola’s I’ll Like To Teach The World To Sing campaign as the moment that advertising went truly global, an event that he then compares to the blowing up of aircraft in Dawson’s Field in 1970 by a Palestinian liberation group. No hostages were killed, but the images of the exploding planes sent a message to the world.
Alipoor suggests that these kinds of advertisements have been refined in the digital age and that they are used in the recruitment of men to groups such as Isis and online communities such as the Incels. To elucidate his point, he introduces three fictional characters, played by actors, examining how men – often shy and socially awkward men – are attracted to these groups. Throughout the rest of Alipoor’s 60-minute film we follow these men’s journeys.
It’s not as easy watch and nor should it be, but there are times when you might want to hide from your computer screen. Alipoor, open, and yet, urgent and even conspiratorial in places, bombards us with information, facts and theories. When messages start pinging on our phones, it’s sometimes difficult to keep up, but again, this is what the digital age is like. To an extent this is what it is like to be groomed, recruited or stalked through social media, though it might be wise deleting Alipoor’s messages afterwards.
The battleground for souls is now in darkened bedrooms where men access websites full of hate, and it’s fitting that Alipoor, twitchy and paranoid, speaks to us in our rooms from his own shadowy room. While his film explains how men are enlisted into these organisations, it doesn’t really interrogate ideas of masculinity, and why men and not woman are drawn to these far-right movements. The masculinity crisis has been exacerbated by the successes of feminism, the decline in the manufacturing industry, and the increase in the objectification of men in advertising. Men are not sure what it means to be a man anymore and so perhaps they are drawn to groups where men are figured as video game heroes, where ‘men are men’. Alipoor touches on these ideas, but in an hour it’s impossible to discuss them all in detail.
But despite the time limit, and the breakneck speed of the narrative, Alipoor tells a gripping story, and the film, so handsomely put together, offers good support for his theories. Scary and fascinating, this show reveals the many holes in the brotherhood of man.
Runs until 12 August 2020
Electric Dreams Festival website – https://electricdreamsfestival.com/